Nov 22

You Can’t Please Everyone

Believe it or not, not everyone is going to like what you write. Get used to it — and move on.

Hey, there are people who don’t like Shakespeare. At the turn of the 20th century, wit and playwright George Bernard Shaw despised the bard. French writer Voltaire of the 1820s and ‘30s thought Shakespeare was a savage. Russian literary giant, the novelist of War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy thought the master playwright as “trivial and positively bad…”

Mark Twain once said, “Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

Think about it — there are writers you don’t like. Personally For Whom The Bell Tolls is the only thing (well, besides The Big Two Hearted River) of Hemingway’s I can even get through. So, who is my fav writer? It doesn’t matter. Who is your most beloved writer? It doesn’t matter. If there’s a writer or two who inspire you, that’s all that’s important.

Certain genre you can’t stand? That means certain writers fall into your “bad writer” circle. There are people in whose “bad writer” circle you fall — most likely many people’s. Deal with it. It’s not the end of the world. You’re not writing for them, anyway.

Pleasing everyone isn’t supposed to be your goal. Your writing should be about pleasing yourself first. If you can’t please you, who can you please? If you don’t clearly love the work you do, it won’t be very good. Too many writers get bogged down straining to be everybody’s favorite and miss doing whatever they’re really good at. Don’t let that be you.

Cornelius Ryan, awarded author of The Last Battle (The Battle of Britian), The Longest Day (D-Day) and A Bridge Too Far (Operation Market Garden), wrote seven fiction novels all of which flopped before he found himself as a historical novelist. So the point here is you need to find what you do best — and a hint — it’s something you like, not something you do but you really don’t enjoy.

Critics and “lit” teachers ruin more writers than anything else. They find images, themes, insights, symbols, and messages where only proper spelling exists. As I’ve said before, write what you want to read — and understand you can’t do that unless you are true to yourself. Own up to what you like and what you don’t. If someone takes what you’ve written as an allegory on some issue in their life — so be it.

Read those writers who inspire you — and don’t be afraid to stop reading writers you don’t like. This is a hard lesson to learn. Closing a book after a chapter or two seems like you’re giving up. Deleting a book you just can’t get into seems like failure. But think about this. You only have x number of days and hours to your life. Why waste any of it on writers who don’t ring your bell? Reading is absolutely a part of your job as a writer.

Of course, there’s something to be said for reading enough to know what turns you off. Once you’ve grasped that — move on. Make your own list of good writers. You’ll find it both enlarges and expands over the years. So, you have a lot of writers you’ve never read and you have yet to discover. Be aware, “There is gold in them there pages.” There’s also crap. You know the difference. Trust your instincts. It’ll make you a better writer.

Remember they said even Jesus couldn’t please more than a dozen people at a time — unless he served them lunch. Unless you’re planning to serve food with your work, focus on your words. Do what you need to do. Write. Get your work done.


Nov 18

What Is Your Voice And How Do You Express It?

Some writers spend years finding their voices, finding their points of view in their writing. Too often it’s the voice of successful, classical writers English literature courses key in on. New writers who spend years trying to emulate the voices of their favorite writer are squandering their time and effort.

You already have a voice — a point of view — a way of looking at the world. You use that voice every time you express yourself orally you’re using that voice. The problem comes when you try to put those feelings, that humor, that sarcasm, that sense of honor, the ethics, the faith, and the passion you feel down on the page.

Your voice is there, but it’s difficult to express when you tie it up in all the structure of plot, the dialogue of characters, and especially description where you might find yourself leaning on dictionaries and a thesaurus you never apply to your speech. Remember, too, that when you speak, more than half of your oral communication involves facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and body language. You’re losing all that when all you have is the printed page.

What happens is that writers forget their own voices when it comes to description and plot. Here’s a suggestion, think of yourself as a character telling your story. That character has a particular vocabulary, certain points of reference both historically and culturally. Think about how that character would express him/herself when telling this tale.

Too much proper English, a lack of contractions, and too much self imposed grammatical restraints which might not be true for your character hold your character and your voice in check.

In the old Lone Ranger radio series introduced on station WXYZ in Detroit in 1933, the creator George W. Trendle the station owner and writer Fran Stryker made a point of distinguishing the Lone Ranger by never having him use anything but proper English — no contractions — no incomplete sentences.   That’s counter to one of the most basic goals of general broadcasting — to use contractions to sound conversational. While this did make the “masked man” unique on the show, it isn’t now, nor was it then, realistic.

Language evolves — if it’s a living language. Latin has specific rules, and we know not only what those rules are but how to write and even speak it according to the rules. But remember, starting sentences with conjunctions (like this one) is the way we naturally speak. In fact, true human speech is composed of run-on sentences, ellipsises, where words and phrases are intentionally left out because we know the audience knows the rest of it without our having to say it — partial and incomplete sentences, words and phrases which are emphasized which we represent in print by such techniques as underlining, setting something off in quotes, and/or using italics or BOLD type.

This is also true with modern writing. We accept it without hesitation in poetry and song lyrics.

What if one character said to another, “PMS alert!”

We all know that someone is rightly or wrongly saying that another character is very moody and apt to flip out over anything said or done. It says, “Be careful! Walk on egg shells and be on your best behavior.”

How would your writer — the character you’ve created in your head — describe the scene, another person, or a situation — how would this character speak?

Your voice is that writer/character — it’s you — the real you. Mostly it’s unfiltered, raw, and true to the way that writer/character sees the world. And that’s a hell of a lot more interesting than something totally grammatically and literally proper.

If you need to, write naked. ;-0

Nov 14

I’m Not Going To Reach My Goal — And I’m OK With It

I’m now six chapters into my new novel and I’ve discovered I’m not a two thousand words-a-day writer. I’ve done two thousand a day, but not on this story and not so far. It was my goal, but I’ve not hit it one single day, yet.

Oh, well — it’s not the end of the world. That I can crank out a thousand words a day steadily is an achievement. What I want to point out here is that having a higher goal is good, but there also a lot to be said for being steady and consistent. I am not stopping to try and polish what I’m doing — I hope you don’t fall into that trap. It’s much more important to get the story down, the book written than to have a single or even a couple of highly polished chapters.

Get the work done! Write it! Like I’ve pointed out before, you can always go back fix it later — but too many writer never really become published, even self published, writers simply because they never finish their project.

I wanted to push myself to do two thousand words per day — because I know how much faster the novel will get done — but at one thousand a day I’m still enjoying what I’m doing and I don’t feel forced. In my case, I’m retired and this is my second career. I love my writing time but I only work at it a few hours a day. I have a wife I love and love to spend my time with — it I spent more time at the keyboard than I did, neither one of us would be pleased with it.

If I were younger and trying to get myself established — and had the time and energy of a younger man — a couple of thousand words a day would be very doable for me. I still need a body of work to establish myself as a writer — and at any age that has to be a goal for you.

Of course there are one-book-wonders. Think of Margret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind and, until recently, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (I don’t want to get into a discussion if it had been better if her second novel, Go Set A Watchman were never published — which was her dying wish). Then there’s Ralph Ellison’s, Invisible Man, Emily Brontë’s, Wuthering Heights, Sylvia Plath’s, The Bell Jar, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, and Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. It would be wonderful to have a title like any of these beside our name — but if you’ve only got one book in you, you’re not much of a story teller. And what if you’re best work won’t be revealed until you fourth or tenth novel?

So, I’ll keep at my one thousand words a day and stay productive and happy — and writing away. I remember that Ian Fleming wrote all his James Bond novels while on summer vacation in Jamaica. I should do so well. For me the process is the key. I like writing, I like creating characters and telling stories. So, I don’t as possibly prolific as I possibly could be — give in a check in the “don’t give a damn” column. One of my favorite greeting cards of all times showed a happy hound of some mixed breed on the face and a note inside saying something like, “Every dog knows that the whole point of life is to enjoy it.”

Nov 04

Starting A New Novel As Of Tonight

Tonight I begin my next novel. Having just finished MURDER IN MULESHOE, a mystery, I’m moving back to a Western this time and writing the second in my Texas Ranger Chronicles. The first, finished in 2013, was GUNS ALONG THE RIO — in which my main character, a 17 year old young man, joins the Rangers in what became the very first time the Texas Rangers were used in a law enforcement capacity. This was 1858 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley — that part of Texas along the Rio Grande River and the Texas-Mexican border.

My hero, young Trace LaFon, was the son of a immigrant anglo family from Louisiana. He was partnered with Xavier Falcon, the second son of a large and wealthy Hispanic family who had lived in Texas for generations. The young men learn all about the ins and outs of being Rangers along with the process of growing up in the wide open spaces of young Texas.

Now, two years later, I’m back around to picking up the story and moving it ahead as the Rangers take on a new role during the Civil War. One of the chief reasons Texas left the Union in those years was because the Federal government pulled out all the troops assigned to guarding the settlers on the Texas frontier. To fill the gap, the Rangers evolved into the Texas Mounted Rifles, and this dedicated force made a tremendous difference in the lives of families trying to grow and make new lives in Texas.

As I begin, I’ve moved my information from the first novel in the series written in M.S. Word into Scrivener, my program of choice now. I have my title, WEST OF THE FRIO, and I’ve imported my characters list from Guns Along The Rio and I’ve started my outline. I have a few chapters listed with titles that tell me what’s going to happen here.

My goals are to up my daily output to 2,000 words a day and write an exciting, fun Western which will dovetail into the series — and hopefully make my readers want to have more in the future.

What I already have are several books I’ve gathered on my topic from used book stores for background and a couple of three-hole binders filled with research. I even have my first couple of sentences — Experience can either teach you something or get you killed. My Pa used to say, “Make sure your last words aren’t, ‘Well that was stupid! Wish I hadn’t done that!’”

Now all that’s left is to write the novel.


Oct 31

What Happens In Case of Disaster?

Have you planned on a fire, flood, hurricane or other disaster? If you keep all your writing on the cloud? What happens if the U.S. and China or Russia go to war and all the satellites and the Internet are the first causalities?

We depend so much on today’s technology that we forget how vulnerable we as writers still are.

I remember the story of a novelist, back in the days when a correcting Selectric was as good as we ever thought writing was ever going to get, who was 350 pages into a 600+ novel when he had a fire. He lost everything and had to start from scratch again.  From that day on, after he got his house rebuilt, he had a fireproof safe put in the floor of the office and at the end of each day, he’d send a copy of that day’s pages to his agent.  Of course, he never had another disaster again after that.

Do you have a clean, neat hard copy of all your work? Do you have a copy of it somewhere other than your own bookshelf or home?  Ever thought about investing in a safe deposit box?   With a clean always scan your material and put in back electronically into your computer, the cloud or an offsite hard drive.

This all sounds super paranoid, but just because you don’t prepare for the worst doesn’t mean it won’t happen?

If you do keep a clean, neat and corrected master copy of your work somewhere, it might be worthwhile to wait to generate that copy until after you’ve had a few readers beyond your editor read your work. I know from personal experience that as soon as you generate a finished copy, the first things to strike you is a misspelling on the first page.

I know what it’s like to have multiple external discs. It can take me almost 20 minutes sometimes to close down for the day saving to the right folder on each drive.  I do this because I use both Mac and PC.  I also make notes on my phone and my I-pad.

What works for you?

I just copied my latest e-book and had it spiral bound at Office Max. Additionally, I’ve discovered that if I do find a mistake, I can make corrections on that page and have it repunched and rebound.

A tip from Hollywood where they use two (not three) brass brads to bind three hole punched scripts — but they write the name of the script on the edge of the pages so you can stack scripts on a shelf or on the floor and still know which one is which without having to pull it out and having to look at the cover.

But I also have hardcopies of my screenplays in three-hole binders with the name taped on the side (I use a lot of black binders — writing on them with a Sharpie doesn’t work). In addition I have 3 ½ inch floppies and even a few Zip Drives.  Yeah, I know, it’s hard to find devices and software that can read these things any more — but what do I do?  If you keep writing long enough, and live long enough, you’ll face similar problems in the future.

One of the realities is that what used to be dead, old novels, plays, short stories and even screenplays, could all become new again years from now. I’ve read stories and blogs and seen YouTube videos about writers who pull out old work of theirs, once published in hardback or paperback but today completely out of print and suddenly find a new audience when turned into e-books.

What none of us know is where the future is going to take fiction in your lifetime. Having good clear versions of your material both electronically and in hardcopy could be worth more than its weight in gold — or whatever becomes the basis of future currency.

And one final thought — what if you and your work is never “discovered” by the world at large until after you’re gone? Is there a good, clean copy of what you’ve created for the Smithsonian and future classrooms?  Think — Herman Melville.

Oct 26

My New Mystery Is Now Available

My new e-book mystery, MURDER IN MULESHOE, is available Amazon for Kindle and through for epub and other e-book formats.  $2.99.  Enjoy!!

Murder In Muleshoe copy

Oct 25

Write What You Love

In 1987 Marsha Sinetar wrote a book about helping people find their career called Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. That’s the bottom line for you as a writer. I’m not one of those who believes you have to suffer for your art. I think you ought to love it. If you’re going to get up and do it every day, nothing is going to motivate you more than your passion for your art.

French actor, playwright, Moliere said it best when he said, “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” Funny, sure, but also good sense.

I once worked at a university where everybody in one particular department just hated each other. They wouldn’t speak to each other in the hallways and saw everything any colleague did as somehow a slight against them. They brooded and snarled at each other — they gave themselves ulcers with the acid they constantly generated in their stomachs. I could never figure out why anybody wanted to work there. I would have been looking for another job every day.

Compared with the department I worked in where everyone enjoyed each other’s company and regularly had lunch together — it was the difference between heaven and hell every single day.

No matter what it is you write, romance, action/adventure, westerns, science fiction, mystery, history — whatever — you most likely aren’t an expert in it and have to do research for your writing.  That’s wonderful.  You keep learning.  Even if you are an expert, what you know also fuels your speculation and your curiosity. A famous Methodist minister in New York of the 1930’s and 40’s, Ralph W. Sockman once said, “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” You already realize that “What if…” is the most important question of your profession. Your mind wanders best in fields of familiarity.

Think about science fiction — it’s mostly speculation about what we know of the science of our universe. What if there was a universe that operated by different rules? What if the rules of physics, sociology, or any other science were taken to it’s logical extreme — but what if these rules were taken to their illogical extremes?  What you know, what you love, is where you are your most comfortable and your most creative.

As a writer you need a platform — a collection of your work — upon which to build a career.  When you begin, nobody know who you are or what you write.  Of course, you could be a one-book-wonder, but don’t count on it.  You should be in this writing business for the long haul.  And the more you love what you do, the more of it you can crank out.  There are numerous writers who like what they do so much that they write more than their publisher can deal with.  (I write e-books so I don’t have that problem.)

British author Henry Patterson wrote thirty-five adventure novels between 1959 and 1974. Sometimes he turned out three or four such novels per year and his publisher demanded that he began using some other pseudonyms. So he wrote under his own name as well as those of James Graham, Martin Fallon, and Hugh Marlowe, and Jack Higgins.   Then in 1975 one of the novels he put out was The Eagle Has Landed under the name of Jack Higgins. That was a worldwide best seller. So his publisher ended up reissuing all of his other books under the Jack Higgins. His catalogue of books paid off wonderfully. This could happen to you.

If you try to write what you think readers like, but you don’t really enjoy the topic, the genre, or the field, it’s going to be like doing any job you don’t love. You can do it, you may even be able to make a living at it, but there’s no joy in it for you.

Now think about your writing. Do you write what you love? Would you read your kind of story if you hadn’t written it? Think about what kinds of books you read. You tend to read what you love. Is that what you write?

As I wrote at the beginning of this, write what you love. That’s where your bliss is — that’s what you can look forward to everyday. You only go around once. Why not ride the horse you like best?


Oct 18

Even When You’re Not Writing

There’s a magazine cartoon from either “The Writer” or “The Writer’s Digest” from years ago I remember. It showed a writer standing at a double window looking out on a fall day in his tweed jacket and a pipe in his mouth, talking to his wife dressed in an apron and holding a feather duster in one hand. The home office had full bookcase lined walls with an empty electric typewriter in the middle of a large messy desk. The writer was saying to his wife, “Just because I’m not writing, it doesn’t mean I’m not writing.”

We always have old ideas, storylines, and concepts percolating somewhere on a back burner. Sometimes it might be an almost forgotten character or incident which only needs the right stimulus to ignite into a glowing, roaring inspiration. Even when I’m supposed to be going to sleep, my wife will sometimes elbow me in bed and say, “Stop writing for today. I can hear the gears turning.” My wife is a poet, painter, jewelry maker and children’s story author. She understands how it works.

But it’s a concept many non-writers have trouble accepting — except, perhaps, for poets who are always seeing the world through unique eyes. Any moment for the poet can become like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” But for the mystery, scifi, or romantic writer?   The same is true.

There are two requirements for the writer to be writing when he isn’t writing.

First there’s the awareness that you have your passive radar, sonar and both audio and video recorders always on. Something someone says to you or around you — even something you see or hear from a wall mounted TV in a bar or restaurant — could provide the missing puzzle piece you’ve needed for a long time or even for the scene you’re working on at the moment.   You have to develop this wakefulness at a subconscious level and make sure it’s on and operating.

It reminds me of the ol’ joke about the preacher caught in a flood when the local river topped its banks. The police came through telling everyone to evacuate. . But the preacher said, “No, God will save me!” As the water began to rise and covered the streets, the local fire department was able to reach his front porch in a rubber boat and offered to take him to safety. Again the preacher refused saying, “No. God will save me!” When the water swept his house into the river, the preacher had to climb up to his roof. A Coast Guard rescue helicopter dropped a sling with a Coastie rescuer but again the preacher shook his head. “No. God will save me!” The house finally broke apart and the preacher drowned. When he got to heaven he met God and said he just didn’t understand. “I thought you were going to save me,” he pleaded. God replied, “I sent the police, the fire department and the Coast Guard.”

With writers, we have to be willing to help ourselves — to be willing to pick up on available stimuli and to be open to see things for more than just what’s on the surface.

Singer/songwriter Don Henley of the rock group, The Eagles, said a friend of his was always coming up with phrases or sayings which ended up part of songs Henley wrote. For example, they were in a bar one night which catered to working rockers and trophy wives looking for an illicit one-night stand. Henley’s friend was looking at the women at the bar and said, “Look at those lying eyes.” Lying Eyes became one of The Eagles biggest hits.

The second requirement is a way to write down or record the flashes of insight. I always carry 3 by 5 cards with me and have them beside my bed, beside my easy chair and on my desk. But Evernote or Penultimate, Pocket, and an array of other note taking programs available for your phone or pad make it so easy to make yourself a reminder. And don’t forget the onboard camera. Sometimes the quickest way to get something down is to snap a picture. The important thing is not to forget that flash you got somewhere, somehow.

As a writer, even when you’re not writing, you’re still writing.

Oct 01

The Reluctant President


Reluctant President copy

What if in the dark, small hours of a morning you discovered Secret Service agents at your front door telling you that you were now the President of the United States?  That’s the way it happened to Porter Randall, a Texas Panhandle surgeon turned novelist who had been persuaded by friends to run for Congress for just a couple of terms.  Could a non-politician without rampant ambition or a lust for power fulfill this office? What would happen to the country?  Would he; could he make a real difference in the world as we know it?  Porter  becomes The Reluctant President and finds out.

This is the first book of the series.

Available only at

Sep 30

The Reluctant Incumbent

The Reluctant Incumbent (2)

Part two of my Reluctant President series, The Reluctant Incumbent, is now finished and up on Amazon.  It is a sequel and picks up right where the first story left off — and it’s political fiction.  It was fun to write and I hope as fun to read as the first one.

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